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Farfall (MM)

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: SIZZLING
Word Count: 72,175
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Secrets. Rebellion. Two men drawn together by a bond that may change the land forever...

Captain Andon Grazon, the poor son of a prostitute, shares a rare bond with Ceris, the only wild-born griffon in the land to bond with a human. He and Ceris are part of the flight corp at Farfall, where he is treated like an outsider and abused by the noble-born riders at the base. When his only friend is killed on patrol, the loss has Andon spiraling down into darkness. The misery of his life leaves him cold and withdrawn, unable to interact with others, and isolated from everyone except Ceris. But after Captain Daren Phalnir and his wing of riders arrive to replace Farfall's lost griffon wing, the powerful and charismatic man brings complications Andon does not need. He doesn't trust the man, no matter how respectful he might seem. Andon has many secrets, and the closer Daren comes to them, the greater the danger to Andon...and to his heart.

After Captain Daren Phalnir arrives at Farfall with Gretnel, his grif, he remains wary. The border base's reputation is anything but pleasant—a place where griffons are considered mere property of the throne, little more than animals. Then he meets a legend: Ceris, the only wilds born griffon to imprint on a man, and her rider, Andon Grazon. Andon is a compelling mystery, keeping Daren at arm's length, remaining hostile, aggressive, and very, very alone. At least until Ceris and Gretnel mate...and discover they may share a true bond, the rarest in existence. Andon's isolation stirs Daren's curiosity and his compassion. He begins to uncover a dark secret, with Andon and Ceris at the center—a secret that may just reach all the way to the throne...

Reader note: contains intense emotional elements. Reader Discretion Advised

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Captain Andon Grazon’s footsteps sounded in the passageway of the ancient barn, loud in the almost painful silence.

His own desolation was only part of the whole.

The whole fortress was in mourning and a state of disbelief that an entire wing of riders could be killed by a horde of wyverns. It was unprecedented, a terrible blow to a group of men who lived so closely together, knew each other so well.

Five men. Five grifs. Gone.

The footsteps stopped as Andon caught sight of people cleaning out Captain Vren’s quarters. Andon lingered in the doorway, arms crossed, leaning against the massive door frame.

Before him, people were sweeping out the nest area, piling the twigs and grass, bits of bright cloth and paper into garbage bins on wheels. Beyond them, Habnin was packing Vren’s possessions carelessly, tossing them into satchels and bags, face tight with either distress or anger. It was always hard to tell with Habnin.

Andon twitched with the need to save some of the items, things that he identified with Vren, things that had been important to his best friend.

His only friend.

Habnin finished, loading the nearby cart with everything, piling it with swift, efficient movements. As he turned, he caught sight of Andon and stiffened, his head coming up, his lip curling.

“Come to see the results of your handiwork, guso?” The insult, an inference to Andon’s less-than-noble background, made little impact upon him. He had heard it for too long and by far more menacing characters than Habnin could hope to be.

He shrugged, eyes half-lidded. No one, especially this little bastard, was going to see his grief, the way his soul was left ragged and torn.

“I was not on the patrol, Habnin. I hardly see how you can possibly pin the blame on me for Vren’s death, much though you will try.” His icy tone made the cleaners hastily finish their work and push the bins from the empty room.

He let them pass, ignored their apprehensive stares. He knew his reputation was fearsome, and he liked it that way. Kept people far away.

Except for Vren.

His heart spasmed, and he almost put his hand to his chest in reaction. Instead, he folded his arms more tightly, made his stance more laconic.

“You were supposed to go with him! Supposed to have his back! Instead, you were screwing around with the commander.” Habnin was spitting with rage, his eyes wild and mad, his fists clenching.

He did not come closer.

Andon felt cold amusement tilt his lips, and the expression made Habnin go pale with fury.

“So quick to blame, when you do not know the facts. The commander and I were discussing new training he wants me to take on. I was being briefed before I decided if I wanted to be involved. However, I am sure if you went to him now, accused him of wanting my ass—or taking it, as you imply—that he would be very willing to clue you in.”

Habnin took a step back, his anger tempered by fear. No one crossed the commander of the base. Lasrem had a way of making people completely regret any discourtesy or defiance shown in his presence, something Andon greatly admired.

There was silence.

“I would not have been on that patrol regardless,” he continued. “I am—sorry—for your loss. Vren was…”

“Don’t fucking say his name, guso! I could never understand what he saw in you, and you changed him into something our family hardly recognized.” He pushed the cart forward, face contorted into hatred. “You are nothing and no one, and he never seemed to realize that. Damn you for your interference, your lies! If I have my way, I will find a way to bring you down, see you sent back to your slums like the dog you are.” He snarled, then spat at Andon’s foot before thrusting the cart past the doorway and into the towering hallway beyond.

Andon could hear the angry footsteps and the creak of the cart slowly diminish with distance until silence fell upon the old barn.

Now, Andon and Ceris were the only occupants of this old, rundown part of the barracks, and the loneliness of that almost brought him to his knees. Gathering strength, he stepped into the cavernous space of Vren’s room, his footsteps echoing in the emptiness where once there had been furniture, woven rugs, and the nest. Now, it was as though Vren and Unla had never existed at all, their presence banished in the space of a day.

The sound of his boots was loud in his ears, his heels clicking across the stone floor. So much had happened in this room, the happiest times of his misbegotten life. Good company, laughter, a sense of camaraderie that he had never before experienced. Vren had been everything to him, a friend who had seen behind the masks, looked beyond his past, and pursued him until he cracked, until they had forged a bond of brotherhood that had stood firm for over fifteen years.

Now, it was gone, and he could not comprehend the entirety of what he had lost. It seemed too great for his mind to begin to understand what this would mean, how long and lonely years stretched in front of him, a return to the past and its attendant misery.

He went to the middle of the room where the stone was sunken down several feet to hold the nest securely. A good twenty feet across, it now looked barren and horrific without the carefully built and lovingly tended nest within it.

The tightness in his chest grew, and he fought back the grief that threatened to overwhelm him. This—this was why he had avoided any link to others.

They always left. One way or the other, they left and he was alone.

He caught sight of a stray bit of cloth, red with gold threads interwoven. Crouching down, he teased it from between the stone flags with trembling fingers and held it upon his palm.

He remembered this cloth. Vren had purchased it several years ago from a vendor in the nearby town. He could remember his friend’s excitement at the find, and the laughter as they had speculated on how Unla would react to the gift.

The griffon-salant had shrieked with joy, carefully shredding the cloth into even strips before weaving them into her nest.

He could almost hear the sounds…

His fingers clenched around the precious fragment. Falling to his knees, safe from prying eyes, he wept.

It was hours later before he could make himself rise, make himself leave the grim silence of the room, so wrong and painful. With lagging steps, he forced his body onward to his own quarters.

A soft chirring sound greeted his arrival, made the silent tears rise once more.

A choked sound escaped him as a wing swept out to draw him close, and he was pressed up along his grif’s side.

Ceris, his grif, tucked her head alongside him, eyeing him closely, a long, soft sound of mourning coming from her throat.

Leaning down, he carefully wove the red and gold thread into Ceris’s nest before he threw his arms around her neck and let the grief overtake him utterly.

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